This 70-Year-Old Voluntarily Stopped Driving: A Q&A
A Woman Who Gave Up Driving Voluntarily at Age 70
What Was This Woman Thinking When She Gave Up Driving?
Q. When did you first make the decision to give up driving when you turned 70, which is now several years ago?
A. "Back in the 1970s, when an elderly relative made the comment that she didn't want to drive with her sister in the car because she didn't want to be responsible for accidents with her sister in the car."
Why Give Up Driving at Age 70?
Q. Why did you stop driving when you turned 70 years old, specifically? Why not 60 or 80?
A. "When I made the decision, I never thought I would live to age 70, and thought that was a really ancient age. I figured I'd be retired and that my activity level wouldn't be such that I'd need a car every day."
What Has Been the Effect of Not Driving?
Q. How has being without your own transportation affected you? I mean, don't you feel a little helpless or trapped, especially since you live alone in a small farming and industrial town but grew up in big-city Washington, D.C.?
A. "No! The biggest change is that I have to plan more carefully. I rely on my kids and neighbors or hire someone to do some tasks.
I've also been ordering many things off of the Internet and having them shipped to me--that is a big one. It's [not driving] affected shopping more than anything else."
What do you think?
Would you ever voluntarily give up your driver's license?
"I Get Around"
Q. You sold your car, so how do you get around to run errands like grocery shopping?
A. "Taxis and the city buses. Occasionally neighbors and my kids."
Q. How have your friends reacted to your decision, especially those who are also over age 70 and DO still drive?
A. “They think I’m crazy. They don’t understand it. It doesn’t compute. They’re finally getting used to the idea that I grew up in a city and am used to getting around without a car. Why don’t I ride a bicycle instead? They’ll ask. That would be even worse than driving a car due to my poor eyesight and balance.”
Q. How has your family reacted to your decision, being an hour away or so?
A. “They have mixed feelings but mostly they’re positive about it. Sometimes it’s an inconvenience, but they mostly adjust.”
Others Over 70 Who Drive
Q. How do you react to your over-70 friends who DO still drive—will you ride in the car with them driving? How do you feel about that?
A. “It is one of my biggest dilemmas. I still ride with them, but it is one of my biggest dilemmas. Some of them don’t drive too well. I mostly take taxis and buses anyway.”
Competent Driver or...?
Q. Setting your decision to stop driving aside for a minute, when you last drove did you feel you were as competent as other drivers on the road, on average?
A. “I don’t know. I know from when I had a medical problem 10 years ago, you can’t know how good you are–you are your own worst judge. A person doesn’t think they’re any worse even when they may be. My daughter has said I was as competent as everyone else, too. But, I picked an age and stuck with it.”
A book with information about the elderly driving dilemma
Who do you know?
Do you have any older relatives or neighbors or friends whom you don't think should be driving?
Q. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like people to know?
A. “Yes. Perhaps if I had a lot of additional family in the area (children, grandchildren) I might not have given up my license so easily. I don’t have all the ball games and school events and etc. associated with kids and family.
I just think safety is most important, and I know that as you age you have to be able to respond to emergencies quickly and correctly. Too many people make excuses for their driving: not driving after dark, not driving alone, not driving on busy roads… These are really admissions that they can’t drive as well as they used to, which means they should question themselves on if they should be driving at all.
"And, it doesn’t hurt that you have to plan better around activities. Taking taxis and busses is actually a lot cheaper than owning a car because I can’t go shopping any time I want, so I make lists of what I need and how much of it and then I make one trip and get everything done and am not tempted to go back and get other things.”
A Good Choice for Everyone
Comment: Finally, as your daughter, I want you to know that, although it’s sometimes inconvenient and annoying that you don’t have your license, and I therefore don’t get to see you nearly as often, I’m proud of you for picking a time to stop driving that is well in advance of any problems: I know I don’t have to worry about you causing an accident or being alone in a car without someone to help you should something happen on the country roads in the winter. I think that if more people made this decision/choice there would be many fewer accidents, and their children wouldn’t have to feel guilty knowing that their aging parent was a hazard behind the wheel, or worse: guilty knowing that their aged parent who shouldn’t have been driving caused an accident that killed someone.
Reply: “It’s just a choice of lifestyle: millions of people don’t have cars. Once you decide that, it’s really just a different lifestyle.
Coffee, aspirin, antihistamine, toilet paper—these are things I make sure to never run out of,” she laughs.
Should Older Drivers be Retested Periodically?
A Live Example of a Growing Problem: A Wake-Up Call for Elderly Drivers
Who Decides When a Person Should Stop Driving?
What do you think?
Do you think older drivers should be periodically re-tested before renewing their driver's licenses?
IF any drivers are required to be re-tested before their license is reissued, who should pay for it?
Who Should Make "The Call" If an Incompetent Driver Doesn't Voluntarily Give Up His/Her License?
If you have a loved one who is an incompetent driver for any reason, or if you know of an incompetent driver, you may be at a loss as to what to do. In such cases, contact your local police station through their non-emergency number. They should have information about an agency you can contact that will investigate and evaluate the potentially incompetent driver's actual driving ability and their situation; if it is not "up to snuff" or if they find that the person's doctor has recommended that they not drive any longer, then the agency can take away the driver's license. The report can even be made anonymously, too, so no one need feel blamed specifically for making "The Call" to take away an incompetent driver's license.
Many studies prove that most accidents happen within just a few miles of home, so if you have a neighbor who is a dangerous or incompetent driver, your likelihood of getting involved in an accident with this person is much higher than normal. U.S. Census statistics show that older adults are much more likely than teens to die in any car accident, so you may actually be doing the person a thankless favor.
Don't abuse the system, of course, but remember: an incompetent driver backing out of their driveway may not even see a child—or group of adults—walking or riding their bicycles past the driveway at the same time. Or, they may see them and press the gas pedal instead of the brakes. And tragedy could strike just that fast in your neighborhood.
If you're not sure and your mind is unsettled, just ask yourself if you could sleep well at night if you DON'T make the call and an accident such as I've just described happens. Best to let the experts do the evaluations, in my mind, and let them either ensure or improve safety for everyone on the roads.
P.S. Writing this article, talking with my mom some more about her decision, and reading the responses to this article has convinced me that pre-determining an age to stop driving and mentally and practically preparing for it is an easier choice than it would be to each day get behind the wheel and decide whether I was competent or not. Or, worse, having an accident or having my license suspended for unsafe driving.
I have committed to myself and my family to stop driving at age 75 (at the latest), since I plan to work until I am age 70 at least and will hopefully live past my 70s.
What about you? Will you make such a promise to yourself? To your family? To your friends and relatives who will one day worry about you? To neighbors whose kids could get run down accidentally by darting out in back of you as you back out of the garage, and in panic you hit the gas instead of the brake pedal?
© 2012 Laura Schneider